Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Religions of the Stars

Last night while I was reading The Essentials of Effective Prayer by Kay Arthur, God smacked me hard on my head, waking me up to something that should have been obvious to me years ago! I've really been enjoying this book, it's helped me dig deep into how and why we pray and is especially focused on intercessory prayer. Every night I write pages of prayers in my journal, and I also have a notebook where I jot down names or situations for quicker prayers. I've been doing this for over five years, and I've been blessed to see many of my prayers answered, especially when it comes to praying for others.

The past few months I have been praying for some situations about family members that have left me feeling completely helpless, and my prayers seem to be going unanswered. In Arthur's book I read John 17:14-19 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.

It's Jesus' prayer to God in the Garden of Gethsemane about his disciples before he is arrested and put on the cross. He's asking God to watch over and love them, which is what I do with my intercessory prayers, but it was verse 15 that really caught my attention:
I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. I was moved by Jesus' prayer to keep them safe from the evil one, which means, in part, safe from temptation. Now I'm sure to most Christians reading this you're thinking, "Duh Christy!" but it was a real wake-up call to me. I've never prayed to protect my loved ones from temptation. I've asked God to give them the wisdom to keep them out of or get themselves out of trouble, but I've never prayed for their protection from temptation itself. This may seem like semantics, but it's not! When I'm in the midst of trouble, I pray for God to protect me and to be with me through it, but praying for Him to keep me from temptation can save a world of headaches!

When we pray for others, we can't ask God to remove them from this world or to keep them completely safe in some sort of sterile pseudo-world. Life doesn't work like that; we are in the world, right where Jesus wanted us to be. But we can ask for safety and protection within the world for ourselves and for others. We should be arming ourselves and others against temptation because there is a battle for our souls! God is a powerful weapon against the dark forces of this world, but like a sword that remains in its scabbard leaving a warrior to die undefended, we must call on Him for that strength and protection. We can't just sit around hoping that evil won't look our way and that temptation will just pass on by. We need to shield ourselves with protective prayer before the attack even begins, and once it starts, we need to ask for his strength to not surrender or to return evil for evil. God will win the fight for each of us if we put Him in the battlefield.

By my not praying against temptation for my loved ones, I was sending them into the battle unequipped to fight. I know that I'm not the only one who can be praying for them and that God can make things happen in their lives whether I help or not. But I also know that when I send Mia to school in a few weeks, I'm going to make sure that she is ready for first grade. We read together each night, and we've even done some math worksheets together, as well as talking about how first grade may differ from kindergarten. She doesn't need me to do those things for her, but she's better equipped to handle that scary first day of school if I've given her all of the tools she may need there. It's the same with prayer. I will pray for my loved ones to protect them from temptation before they even set foot on the battlefield, and when they do, I will pray for God's strength and protection for them there as well. James 1:12 says: God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. Even when they won't do it themselves, I will loose the sword of God to defend them.

Religions of the Stars by Richard Abanes is a well-rounded thoughtful look at the religions of celebrities and how they compare to Christianity. I've read other books that are a bit similar, but Abanes takes an original approach is addressing the specific adherents of these beliefs, while never attacking or condescending. From the Church of Oprah to Scientology to Mormonism (who knew that both Napoleon Dynamite and Izzy Stevens were both Mormon?!?), Abanes presents the history and core beliefs of each religion. I appreciated his objective discussions without the snide comments of many other books in this genre. At the end of each chapter are a few paragraphs on how Christians can discuss Jesus with believers of that specific religion, but this book isn't just for Christians. Anyone looking for deeper insight into why some many celebrities congregate to New Spirituality or Kabbalah will gain understanding here.

I've had so many entries into this week's contest, along with encouraging emails about interest in the book, that I'm going to bump up the give away to TWO copies of the book! Two winners will each receive a copy, plus a couple of other bonuses. So don't delay, send me an email to get in right away! The contest ends Thursday, August 13th at 10 pm. I'll announce the winners here on Friday.